Fall is always considered a season of change. For Aimee and I, it is the season in which we lost our precious girl. A season of bittersweet memories marked by last kisses, warm rain and crisp evenings. As soon as the leaves start to change, Aimee and I can feel our hearts tightening as we enter into the season of Stella’s death.
I took Sam to our local playground, Aldwych Park a few weeks ago. Stella used to call it “Sandwich Park” and tantrumed mightily each time it was time to go home. Once I made the mistake of taking her in the wagon and when it was time to leave, I couldn’t make her sit so I had to call Aimee to come get us in the car. She was a wild one. When Sam and I arrived at Aldwych, I noticed that one of the old slides with a steering wheel that Stella liked to play on was gone. It had been replaced with a new climbing structure shaped like a firetruck. Sam happily climbed up and began to play, but I was struck with how sad I felt that the old slide was gone. It is yet another thing that has changed since Stella walked on this Earth. The more time passes since her death, the more disconnected I feel to the things we used to do, the way we used to be. Now when I walk into Aldwych “Sandwich” Park, I will no longer have that faded pink plastic slide— a concrete object to tie my memories of Stella to. That’s hard. Sometimes Aimee and I put an old t-shirt or pair of pyjamas that used to belong to Stella on the boys. But they have outgrown almost all of her clothes, and soon we won’t be able to do that anymore. Stella’s room has now become “Hugo’s room”. Even Aimee and I call it that, without even thinking. Though her essence is still there, the room itself has been overtaken by books about construction vehicles, Toy Story dolls and baseball caps. At a BBQ heralding the beginning of the school year, her friends were called together for a “Senior Kindergarten” picture. Seeing them all there, smiling at the camera made my heart ache. They are so grown-up now. So different from the way they were when Stella was part of the group. My job with its crazy hours and weekends keeps me away from so many social activities and I just feel so distant from the world I once lived in with Stella.
In just a couple of weeks it will be 2 years since she took her last breath. 2 years since her soft, warm weight filled my arms and the smell of her maple & brown sugar porridge breath filled the air. 2 years since I nuzzled her shoulder, since I heard her cackle-y laugh. Hugo is now almost the exact same age to the day that Stella was when she was diagnosed. His energy, his smile, his mischievousness is so much like his older sister, yet he is a person all his own. Sam is going to be 3 on October 20th, and has surpassed Stella in much of his development since her physical capabilities got stalled at age 2 years and 2 months. Sometimes, he wakes up early in the morning and asks to come into bed with Aimee and I. Though Aimee can’t sleep with kids in the bed, I will sneak him in and cuddle up, closing my eyes and breathing in the scent of play-doh and milk. I put my head on his shoulder the way I used to do with Stella and close my eyes and sometimes pretend that he is her. I’m sure a therapist or psychiatrist would have something to say about that…but I don’t think it’s unhealthy. It’s just one way that I can still feel connected to her. Remembering how it felt to have her sleeping peacefully between Aimee and I. Sam is skinny, just like Stella was her last several months and his gangly legs and even breath is so familiar and comforting to me. Once I even woke up and in the confusion of those first few moments of wakefulness, forgot that Stella had died and went to go smooth her curls. The short, flat sheen of Sam’s hair jolted me out of my memory and the pain of her loss hit me full-force.
We had a great summer. Despite the fact that the hours at the funeral home are challenging to manage, whenever I am off I find that I am energized and excited to spend time with the boys. They are so full of energy right now. They just run and leap and play from morning to night. It’s exhausting and exhilarating all at the same time. Sam and Gracie have become very connected. Hugo sometimes gets in on the action, but he is content to play by himself sometimes, and often pairs off with Xavier whereas Sam follows Gracie around as though she is a celebrity. They play well together and she looks after him. The way she always looked after her cousin “Stellie”.
I was visiting with my friend Christie last week and we were remembering what it was like when Stella was alive. Although it was a devastating diagnosis and difficult time, it was also a wonderful and magical time. Our entire family was together day after day with the sole goal of making Stella’s life as fun and happy as possible. We spent hours visiting, eating ice cream, putting on puppet shows, going for leisurely walks. We were surrounded by friends and strangers who joined us in our goal and life was just a series of incredible experiences with other peoples generosity and selflessness. Meals sent to us, people popping in with gifts for Stella, trips to Riverdale Farm and Great Wolf Lodge whenever we felt like it. Now, we are back to the “regular” world, dealing with traffic, grocery shopping, laundry and working full-time, trying desperately to find time to visit and see all the people we love. It’s hard. It’s been hard to navigate all these changes. Sometimes I get sad because my new schedule keeps me away from some of the people I was most connected with during Stella’s illness. Sometimes I struggle with watching the world change so quickly around me while I still long for the days before my daughter was ripped from my arms. Sometimes I allow myself to fantasize what life would have been like if things had been different. But I can’t let myself live in the past, because I don’t want to miss all the wonderful things that are right in front of me. So, Aimee and I have started talking about Sam starting kindergarten next year (sign-up is this coming February). We did research on a gymnastics class that I think Sam would like to take. Hugo has shown an interest in basketball (thanks to the movie High School Musical and its anthem, “Get Your Head In the Game”) that he has memorized. Aimee continues to train on her bike, setting her sights higher each time. I am navigating the challenging world of training to become a Funeral Director. And with each day that passes, we experience change. Changes in the seasons. Changes in our community. Changes in our lives. It’s not all bad, it’s just a challenge.
Sam and Hugo enjoy watermelon at the cottage:
Sam swinging at the park:
Hugo loves going on canoe rides!
Sam runs around the playground:
Hugo does some “construction” work on Stella’s playhouse:
Miss you baby. Stella (August 2012):